Katelyn Sedig joined the Clark College Environmental Action Club last fall when she was approached by the previous president, who noticed she was reading “All We Can Save,” an environmental book focused on solutions to the climate crisis.
She said she decided to join the club because she wanted to make a change and is now its co-president. The club is student-run and focuses on inspiring others on climate action through education and activism.
But lately, students say they’re experiencing burnout from climate inaction.
The United Nations issued a “code red” alert for humanity last August due to the hastening climate emergency of reaching a 3.6 degrees increase in global temperature. The U.N. report determined extreme temperature increase would destroy ecosystems, exacerbate uncontrollable bouts of heat, drought, flooding and global ice reduction.
Students and other activists like Sedig could be experiencing climate anxiety, a chronic fear of environmental doom, as defined by the American Psychological Association. A study with the National Library of Medicine revealed that climate anxiety is being felt most by young people who are exposed to information about climate change and its impacts.
To cope, the environmental action club strives to attack climate change through local initiatives. The club has recently worked toward getting the Clark College Foundation to divest funds from fossil fuel companies in five years. The club has outlined both immediate and gradual steps to achieve the goal. However, Sedig said the inaction from the Clark College Foundation has been frustrating and contributes to student burnout.
“It’s really easy to get burnt out with this kind of activism, especially with responses like we’ve received from the foundation,” Sedig said. “With that said, there are certain facets of this work which are extremely energizing, like petitioning and attending community events. When we feel heard is when we’re most energized by this work.”
Sydney Brahmavar, club faculty adviser and atmospheric scientist at Clark College, said activism at a financial level can have a lot of impact locally. Despite student requests, she also said the college has been unresponsive to requests of divesting money from fossil fuel companies.
“I would like to see the college at least engage with the students and be transparent about where they’re investing. Ultimately in a capitalist system, our money is our power,” Brahmavar said. “This is something students can influence. You do have to say. This is your college.”
Kevin Damore, director of marketing with Clark College, said that because the school is a state funded institution, it doesn’t make investments for the college. However, it partners with the foundation, which makes investments for its operations and other programs.
Clark College Foundation’s CEO Calen Ouellette said the foundation is committed to consistently reviewing its investment portfolio to ensure a “high level of social responsibility.”
While the foundation does not invest directly in fossil fuel companies, “a small percentage of the foundation’s endowment is invested indirectly in securities like mutual funds that may mix fossil fuel entities.” Looking forward, Ouellette said, the Clark College Foundation’s Board of Directors will be analyzing funds to see where investment and disinvestment is possible without impacting financial endeavors.
Club co-presidents Sedig and Amelia Cole said the lack of transparency is frustrating. Sedig said the foundation has dismissed club members as “determined” students but have yet to support their requests, or at the very least, engage in discussion.
Nationally, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into actionlaw onTuesday. The bill invests about $370 billion in low-emission energy sources and supports community-led air pollution cleanup initiatives. The White House calls the legislation “the most aggressive action” the United States has taken on the fight for climate change.
Still, there’s work to do. Cole said the Inflation Reduction Act is an amazing breakthrough to national climate action in Congress. However, she said it’s a bittersweet moment. While she said the legislation gives funding for green energy and other climate projects, she said it fails to highlight the continuous funding and investments in the fossil fuel industry from public and private sectors.
Sedig said environmental advocacy efforts can be both large and small, on a national and local level. She said students should feel empowered to use their voices at whatever level feels accessible, even when it feels daunting. Though the narrative about climate change is pessimistic by design, Sedig said it’s possible to craft a new narrative. Cole recommends turning unwanted feelings of frustration and burnout into action.
“I have absolutely felt burnout as an activist,” Cole said. “For students who feel upset about the climate crisis and the lack of response from our community’s institutions, I strongly urge you to get involved through clubs, organizations or your education. Channeling those feelings into action is the most liberating feeling, and you would be surprised at how many people feel the same.”
Sedig hopes to pursue a career in the environmental field after graduation. Cole hopes to pursue a career in environmental science or ecology.